What Are Antibiotics Used For
Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent infections caused by bacteria

Antibiotics are medications used to fight bacterial infections by either killing the bacteria or inhibiting the growth of bacteria.

Antibiotics must always be used as prescribed by your doctor.

When are antibiotics used to treat infections?

Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat various types of bacterial infections, including:

The medications are generally taken orally, although injectable antibiotics may be given for serious infections, such as sepsis or deep-seated organ abscesses. 

Antibiotics are typically prescribed when the infection is unlikely to clear on its own or will take longer to clear without the medications. Moreover, antibiotics can help prevent the spread of infection to others or the progression of infection to a more serious disease.

When are antibiotics used to prevent infections?

While antibiotics are primarily used to treat bacterial infections, they may also be administered in situations where there is a high risk of serious infections. This preventive use is also called prophylaxis. 

Prophylactic antibiotics may be prescribed before surgeries or to people vulnerable to serious infections, such as:

  • Elderly individuals
  • Organ transplant recipients
  • Patients who have undergone splenectomy
  • Those undergoing chemotherapy
  • Those with HIV

Prophylactic antibiotics may also be used in cases of certain wounds or bites.

What are different types of antibiotics?

Antibiotics are of various types depending on their mechanism of action or the way they kill or prevent the growth of bacteria. Common types include:

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance refers to the inability of an antibiotic medication to treat infection because the bacteria are no longer responsive to it. This occurs when the bacteria develop the ability to defend themselves against the antibiotic.

Factors that can contribute to antibiotic resistance include using:

  • Wrong doses of antibiotics frequently
  • Antibiotics when they are not required
  • Wrong antibiotics for the infection
  • Antibiotics for a shorter duration than required

Antibiotic resistance can make treating a bacterial infection very difficult. Higher doses of antibiotics may be needed, and in some cases, the antibiotics may not work at all. This can result in serious and life-threatening infections.

To prevent antibiotic resistance:

  • Use antibiotics only when prescribed to you
  • Do not share antibiotics
  • Use antibiotics in the doses and for durations advised by your doctor


Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments See Slideshow

What are the potential side effects of antibiotics?

Potential side effects of antibiotics vary across different antibiotics and your sensitivity and general health. Common side effects of antibiotics may include:

Side effects may range from minor to severe. Some individuals may develop serious allergic reactions to certain antibiotics, which include:

Consult your doctor if you experience severe side effects with an antibiotic. Take note of the offending antibiotic and inform your doctor when visiting for a consultation.

When should antibiotics not be used?

Antibiotics should only be used as prescribed by your doctor. You should not share antibiotics with others, no matter how similar your symptoms are. 

Antibiotics are not useful in treating or preventing viral infections, such as colds, flu, and allergies. They may not even be needed for minor bacterial infections in which the body’s immune response can get rid of the bacteria.

What precautions to take with antibiotics

If you missed taking your antibiotics on time, take the missed dose as soon as you remember. If, however, you are nearing the time for your next antibiotic dose, do not double the dose. You may skip the missed dose in this case. Then continue taking your doses as prescribed.

Antibiotics may reduce the efficacy of oral contraceptive pills, so you may need alternative birth control measures while on antibiotics. Antibiotics can also cause certain drug interactions and should not be taken with alcohol. Always consult your doctor before taking antibiotics if you are currently taking other medications.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/28/2022
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